MateraJanuary 7, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☁️ 12 °C
None of us want to write this post for Matera as not one of us can think of words to string together to give an idea of what is Matera. Words escaped us when we walked out of our accommodation, turned left for 8 steps, and were faced with old Matera rising before us. We gasped, we exclaimed, and we sighed. It was like being transported back to biblical times. Indeed, Matera has been continuously occupied by humans for over 9000 years, making it the second oldest, after another in Jordan. Looking around us, it is no wonder that Matera was used in the set of many films like Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ and the latest Wonder Woman movie. We had a look at the scenes from those films, and that is exactly as we see Matera.
I am referring to the sassi, literally meaning stones, the old district of Matera that is a series of caves carved into one side of a deep gorge. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, these caves have been adapted, redug, extended and built over, through millennia. After the Middle Ages, they were only used for animals, olive oil press and storage. It was lived in again by impoverished peasants who were forced out of their land by a failed feudal system. Living conditions were so deplorable as families of up to 11 lived together with livestock in a small damp airless cave room. In the 1950s, infant mortality on the Sassi was over 44%. Carlo Levi described it as the Inferno of Dante's Divine Comedy. Embarrassed by publicity of this plight, the Italian government relocated the population of the sassi in the 1950s. Abandoned, the sassi then fell into greater disrepair. It is now in the process of being restored and revived, even gentrified, especially after being named cultural capital of Europe for 2019.
It was Epiphany yesterday, and the centre of the new town was thronging with tourists from other Italy. Some made their way to the sassi, but kept mainly to the few landmark Rupestrian churches and cave museums. We tried to explore further into Sassi Caveoso, the older uninhabited sassi, but much is inaccessible or blocked off.
Standing at the many lookouts, is to stare at time, past, present and future, all at once. One can see across the gorge to Parco Murgia and it's many ancient caves. It is what the sassi would have started as all those 9000 years ago. On our side of the gorge, there is still much evidence of the old squalid caves before the government evacuation, and the promise of what will be a thriving tourist centre, especially after 2019. We can even see a building crane, most out of place amidst this ancient scene. Abandoned dingy caves neighbour renovated ones of glitzy restaurants, bed and breakfast accommodations, and souvenir shops. We will be so happy for Matera to prosper after it's tough history, and feel extremely privileged to experience it as it is now, the undiscovered gem that is magical Matera.Read more